'That'll Be The Day' - the Film

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That'll Be The Day is a 90-minute long 1973 film set in the late 1950s. Containing sex and deckchairs and rock and roll, it starred David Essex and Ringo Starr and was filmed almost entirely on location on the Isle of Wight1. The plot was loosely inspired by the Harry Nilsson song '1941' about a baby boy born in 1941 whose father leaves when he is young, when the boy grows up he runs off to join the circus before later settling down before leaving his own wife and son. The story was also heavily influenced by the early career of the Beatles. Considered to be among the definitive rock and roll films, it was one of the most successful British films of the year and was followed by a sequel.

It is also the only film made to date to have been extensively filmed on the Isle of Wight that does not star Dame Judi Dench as Queen Victoria2.


In the 1940s after the Second World War six-year-old Jim's father returns from service and tries to settle back into domestic life with his son and wife working in the family shop, but shortly afterwards leaves. By the mid-1950s Jim has grown to become the most intelligent boy at his school who is predicted to be heading for university, with his mother preparing to make sacrifices to send him there, but instead he longs to live a rock 'n' roll lifestyle. He decides not to take his exams and runs away to the seaside where he gets a job in the day as a deckchair attendant and spends his nights in a nearby funfair.

After being fed up of being outside in all weathers – particularly rain – he gets a job in a holiday camp. There with his new-found friend Mike he works in the bar in the camp's ballroom, watching the camp's rock and roll band the Typhoons attract the devoted attention of the girls in the audience. He spends much of his time seducing the women in the camp and later follows Mike to work in a funfair on the dodgems. There they work all hours for very little money, but supplement their wages by short-changing the customers. Jim, still a misogynist, still tries to seduce as many attractive women who visit the fair as he can, even sexually assaulting a schoolgirl, much to Mike's disgust. Mike, though, is attacked by an angry gang seeking revenge after he refused to give a customer his change and though Jim witnesses this he walks away, pretending he hadn't seen. With Mike's ribs and legs broken Jim is promoted to running the Whip spinning ride.

Two years after leaving home Jim decides to return and tries to settle down and work in the shop. He sells his motorbike to buy the shop a van and starts respectfully dating Jeanette, the sister of Terry - his best friend at school – without sleeping with her before they marry. Yet the night before the wedding Jim slept with Jeanette's best friend Jean, who is also Terry's girlfriend, in the back of the shop van. After the birth of his son Jim lies to his family, telling them he is going to night school when he is really sneaking off to clubs to see rock bands perform. He then decides to leave home and abandon his wife and son, just as his father had, buying a second-hand guitar just as the credits roll.

Dramatis Personæ

Actors and characters in Bold appear in the sequel, Stardust (1974).

Jim MacLaineDavid Essex OBE
Mike MenaryRingo Starr MBE
Mrs Mary MacLaineRosemary Leach
Mr MacLaineJames Booth
Stormy TempestBilly Fury
JD Clover, drummerKeith Moon
Jeanette SutcliffeRosalind Ayres
Terry SutcliffeRobert Lindsay
SandraDeborah Watling
WendyVerna Harvey
DoreenBrenda Bruce OBE
GranddadJames Ottaway
Jean, Jeanette's best friendBeth Morris
Mrs SutcliffeDaphne Oxenford
CharlotteKim Braden

David Essex OBE was an unknown at the time of making the film but has since had a successful singing career with two UK number ones in the 1970s and eight further top ten hits, including 1982's Christmas no 2 'A Winter's Tale'. Billy Fury who plays singer Stormy Tempest was a pre-Mersey Beat singer from Liverpool who had 11 UK Top Ten Hits between 1959 and 1965 and effectively plays himself. Keith Moon, the 1960s' second most famous drummer behind only Ringo Starr, was the drummer for The Who and inspired Jim Henson's Muppet drummer Animal.

Deborah Watling was most famous for starring as companion Victoria Waterfield in 40 episodes of Doctor Who in 1967-8. Robert Lindsay has won a BAFTA, Tony Award and three Olivier Awards and has appeared constantly in films, television and stage but is best known for starring in sitcoms Citizen Smith (1977-80) and My Family (2000-2011). Rosemary Leach was a sought-after Olivier award-winning actress appearing in supporting roles in numerous films and television programmes. Rosalind Ayres played a stepsister in Cinderella musical The Slipper and the Rose (1976) and appeared in Titanic (1997). James Booth also appeared in numerous films and was an actor who despite early promise playing villains never quite managed to make it big – he is best known for playing Hook in Zulu.

The Making - Those Were The Best Days of My Life: The Summer of '59

That'll Be The Day was by Ray Connolly, a journalist who had often interviewed the Beatles. Considering John Lennon a friend, he knew when John left the Beatles and kept the story secret for four months until Paul McCartney announced that he had also left the Beatles, because Lennon had asked him not to reveal it. One of the film's consultants was Neil Aspinall, the Beatles' road manager from 1961 who had been to school with Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Aspinall and Keith Moon chose the film's soundtrack, which was able to exploit British music company EMI's back catalogue.

That'll Be The Day was filmed in late October and November 1972 on the Isle of Wight. Sandown High School appeared as the school that they attend, with the beach at Shanklin next to Shanklin Pier where Jim works as a deckchair attendant. The holiday camp that Jim and Mike work at was the former Puckpool Holiday Park. Though this has since closed the crazy golf course that Ringo and Essex play on has since been moved to Rylstone Gardens next to Shanklin Chine. The fairground was set up next to Wootton Bridge while the shop where Jim lives and the neighbouring shops were filmed in Ryde. As David Essex was starring in the original West End production of Godspell he kept his hair in a style that was longer than common for the period. He later described making the film with the words,

Ringo and I were in T-shirts, pretending to have a good time when all the time it was pouring rain.

While in the film Ringo's character teaches Jim, played by Essex, how to work on the funfair and diddle the customers, in real life the roles were reversed. Essex has said,

That was great because we had the run of the fair all night. Years ago I used to work on a funfair and I had to teach Ringo how to balance as we went round, collecting money from the punters.

Making the film and encouraged by Ringo and Moon, inspired Essex to write a song about the era. This song, 'Rock On', was a top-ten hit in the UK and US in 1973/43 while a cover version by Michael Damian became a US number 1 in 1989.

Keith Moon had a habit of travelling to the Isle of Wight hotel in which they were staying by landing a helicopter on its roof and emerging in fancy dress, particularly dressed as the Red Baron. During the making of the film the hotel ballroom hosted a performance in which, according to David Essex,

Ringo on lead guitar, me on bass, Graham Bond on drums, Harry Nilsson on tambourine and Keith 'Honky Tonk' Moon on drums and we had Billy Fury as singer. You never heard such a noise in your life, because we were all playing about with instruments we don't normally play, just for the fun of it.

Neighbours do not seem to have shared the fun as the police were called, arriving at 4am to stop the music.

Despite his too-small a role, Ringo's performance is the key to the film and made all the more believable as it is inspired by his life story. Ringo found making the film extremely cathartic, saying,

My part as Mike is total flashback since he's very much me as I was in the late 1950s. [I even wear] my own actual velvet-collared jacket [from the period]. Everyone reeled back from the smell of mothballs when I put it on. I wear a pair of socks I used to wear in those days too.

Director Claude Whatham encouraged Ringo to deviate from the official script to get a more natural performance, with Ringo saying,

[I could] ramble on all I wanted, because people write lines for you that you’d never say. So I did my own dialogue. I love it when they let me go off on my own.

One of Ringo's lines was said to Jim when they were both working in the bar about the holiday's camp band the Typhoons that was attracting all the girls' attention, 'There's no future in being a Typhoon. I mean, where does it get you?' in a direct reference to Ringo having started his career as a Hurricane drumming for Rory Storm and the Hurricanes at a Butlin's holiday camp. Ringo's fellow Hurricane John 'Johnny Guitar' Byrne said,

The Stormy Tempest character that Billy Fury played in the film 'That'll Be the Day' was based on Rory, but they got one thing wrong – there were far more women than that.

Feeling typecast as a children's television actress, Deborah Watling agreed to appear topless in the film's most revealing sex scene, meaning That'll Be The Day features the first female nudity of a former Doctor Who companion4.

The film ends with the words,

Made on location on the Isle of Wight. The producers wish to thank Warner Holidays Ltd and the people of the Isle of Wight for their co-operation in the making of this film.

David Essex and Rosemary Leach's performances were both BAFTA nominated while Roy Connolly won the Writers Guild of Great Britain Best Original Screenplay award.

Stardust Sequel

The film was so successful that a sequel, this time set in the 1960s and 1970s, was immediately commissioned. Originally titled Sooner or Later it was released the following year as Stardust5. This follows a more conventional plot, following Jim's journey into becoming a successful star. A larger part was written for Ringo as Mike becomes Jim's road manager however he chose not to return; though he had found making That'll Be The Day cathartic the sequel was uncomfortably close to his experience of the Beatles. Particularly a scene deliberately made to resemble when Ringo replaced Pete Best as the Beatles' drummer. Ringo was replaced by Adam Faith as Mike. Disappointingly Stardust failed to film on the Isle of Wight and was made on the mainland and in Spain and the United States instead. One character, played by Larry Hagman, was a key influence on one of the most famous American television characters of the 1970s-80s, JR Ewing in soap Dallas.

Soundtrack Album

As the film was made by EMI, then one of the largest music companies in the world, with Columbia Records its American subsidiary, the soundtrack benefits from featuring recordings of many of the biggest artists of the time. This includes the Everly Brothers, Big Bopper, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Del Shannon, Ritchie Valens and, of course, Buddy Holly, whose song 'That'll Be The Day' inspired the title of the film and a cover version by Bobby Vee features over the UK version's end credits6. The 40-track double soundtrack album spent the longest time as the UK number one album for 1973, remaining at the top spot for seven weeks between 30 June and 18 August.

  • 'Bye Bye Love' by The Everly Brothers
  • 'Poetry In Motion' by Johnny Tillotson
  • 'Little Darlin'' by The Diamonds
  • 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' by The Platters
  • 'Chantilly Lace' by The Big Bopper
  • 'Runaround Sue' by Dion And The Belmonts
  • 'Devoted To You' by The Everly Brothers
  • 'Great Balls Of Fire' by Jerry Lee Lewis
  • 'Running Bear' by Johnny Preston
  • 'Tequila' by The Champs
  • 'Tutti Frutti' by Little Richard
  • '(Till) I Kissed You' by The Everly Brothers
  • 'I Love How You Love Me' by The Paris Sisters
  • 'Runaway' by Del Shannon
  • 'Bony Moronie' by Larry Williams
  • 'Honeycomb' by Jimmy Rodgers
  • 'Why Do Fools Fall In Love' by Frankie Lyman
  • 'Party Doll' by Buddy Knox
  • 'Linda Lou' by Ray Sharp
  • 'Red River Rock' by Johnny And The Hurricanes
  • 'That'll Be The Day' by Bobby Vee And The Crickets
  • 'Born Too Late' by The Ponitails
  • 'Wake Up Little Suzy' by The Everly Brothers
  • 'Sealed With A Kiss' by Brian Hyland
  • 'Book Of Love' by The Monotones
  • '(You've Got) Personality' by Lloyd Price
  • 'Well All Right' by Bobby Vee And The Crickets
  • 'At The Hop' by Danny And The Juniors
  • 'Ally Oop' by Dante And The Evergreen
  • 'Raunchy' by Bill Justis
  • 'Rock On' by David Essex
  • 'A Thousand Stars' by Billy Fury
  • 'Real Leather Jacket' by Viv Stanshall
  • 'Long Live Rock' by Billy Fury
  • 'What In The World (Shoop)' by Stormy Tempest
  • 'That's All Right Mama' by Billy Fury
  • 'Slow Down' by Eugene Wallace
  • 'Get Yourself Together' by Billy Fury
  • 'What Did I Say' by Billy Fury
  • 'It'll Be Me' by Wishful Thinking


That'll Be The Day combines early rock 'n' roll nostalgia with a story that has so many deliberate parallels with the rise of the Beatles that it is in many ways directly comparable with Beatles biopics, with the added bonus of featuring Ringo Starr and other of the UK's most famous musicians. One of the joys of the film is looking out for these moments such as Jim's mother telling him that playing a guitar is a fine hobby but not something to make a career out of, exactly the same words that John Lennon's aunt said to him when he was young, Though a work of fiction the film creates a format that more recent films such as Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and Rocketman (2019) continue to follow.

The film owes a great deal to the earlier style of Britain's Angry Young Man and Kitchen Sink subgenres though the impressive soundtrack is pure rock and roll nostalgia. David Essex was chosen as they wanted the main character to be liked by audiences despite being selfish, lazy and misogynist, and Essex's cheeky personality lets him get away with, well, while there's no murder in the film there is an almost-certain rape. Essex nevertheless keeps the audience's sympathy while the film shows his dissatisfaction with the grit and grime of his grim everyday life, much of which is a result of his rejection of his mother's values.

The film effectively contrasts the differing attitudes and experiences of working and middle class life through the character of Terry, who begins the film as Jim's closest friend and, through going to university, is seen enjoying trad jazz and a whole different way of life, with his university friends looking down on Jim's working class rock and roll musical tastes.

1With some sections filmed in Southsea and a small scene less than a minute long filmed in London.2Both Mrs Brown (1997) and Victoria & Abdul (2017) were partially filmed at Osborne House.3'Rock On' was produced by Jeff Wayne who cast David Essex as the artilleryman in his seminal 1978 Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds album.4There are those who are worryingly interested in this sort of fact…5Not to be confused with the Neil Gaiman film adaptation of the same name6In the US David Essex's song 'Rock On' featured over the end credits instead.

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